How to be a responsible traveler?
Responsible travel is not only caring about nature and the ecosystem, it is about being socially and culturally aware, understanding and respecting different cultures, customs, and traditions. It is about always trying to have a positive impact and minimize the negative impact as much as possible.
While the meanings of these terms sound similar to sustainable tourism, here it is the traveler who takes the initiative to be responsible.
1. Respect the culture and customs
We must keep in mind that the world is a diverse place and it is very important to respect the local customs, dress appropriately, and maybe even take some time to learn some of the local language (even if it is just ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’).
South Caribbean tip: There are different institutions that offer Spanish lessons as well as Caribbean cooking classes. Learning how to cook traditional coconut-based plates is a perfect activity for rainy days!
2. Buy local items
When you’re abroad, consider where you want to spend your money when it comes to meals, snacks, souvenirs, clothing, etc. One of the best ways to make a positive impact on the lives of the residents and local communities in the country you’re visiting is to purchase products that are locally grown/made. You are not only helping someone to create a better life for themselves or their family, but you will also have a much more authentic travel experience and will get to know their culture and traditions.
South Caribbean tip: Handicraft items are sold at the artisan feria located in downtown Puerto Viejo. If you take a tour to an indigenous Bribri or Cabecar Reserve, you can get original and beautiful handcrafts while helping the community.
3. Volunteering is great, but do some research first
Offering your time as a volunteer or donating money to good causes are great ways to be a responsible traveler. There are plenty of different ways to help, depending on your preferences and skills you can help kids to learn another language or sports, or help injured or rescued wildlife, but you must do a bit of research before engaging in these activities, to make sure the organization is real and does not make any profit or take away jobs from locals.
South Caribbean tip: If volunteering with an institution is a commitment that takes too much time, you can always spend an afternoon picking up litter from the beach! Every week different local groups organize trash campaigns you can join spontaneously!
4. Watch your waste
In some countries, we might find a different education level involving recycling or minimizing waste. But it is even more important that we as travelers do some simple things to manage our waste, and ensure doing our best to be responsible.
Pack reusable bags or your backpack and say no to plastic bags from shops, eat and drink in the cafe rather than taking away your food and drinks (or use a KeepCup), do not use straws, and try to use natural products.
5. Leave no trace
You shouldn’t leave any footprint in the natural environment – whether you’re exploring the backcountry, a rainforest, or a city. This also includes respect for wildlife – don’t deface property, walk on the signed paths, don’t take any seashells or other natural plants or artifacts.
South Caribbean tip: It is important to know that in Costa Rica it is illegal to remove natural items, especially in protected areas like Cahuita National Park. Avoid a nasty moment at the airport!
6. Minimize your carbon footprint
We all know that when we travel we often have to use a plane to get somewhere, but you can lower the environmental impact of your travels at the destination itself. Use public transport instead of taxis. If it is short distances you can also walk or rent a bike, you can explore the area even better and it is good for your budget and your health too.
South Caribbean tip: We highly recommend renting a bike and moving around the different beaches. We promise you the landscape is gorgeous and the road is flat all the way. Even if you’re not used to riding bikes, it won’t be difficult at all!
7. Choose sustainable tour operators
Choose a company that respects the environment and wildlife, and works with the community, to provide jobs to the local people or provide extra training for their staff. Some companies or tour operators donate a part of their money to NGOs, or pay their staff a bit more money than usual.
South Caribbean tip: Check our certified ‘Sloth Friendly Network (SFN)’ businesses here.
8. Respect the wildlife
Don’t participate in any tours that promote cruelty towards animals with direct hands-on contact, (dolphin shows, riding elephants, cub petting). Wildlife tourism is big business and unfortunately, money comes before the well-being of the animals. If you are really interested in visiting a place that gives animals home or protects them, make sure you contact them and have a look if they are a registered organization and if they are transparent.
Regarding wildlife in their natural habitat, remember that it is illegal to feed wild animals, bait them with food or touch them. Always keep a safe distance, not only because you respect the animal but also because it is safer for you!
South Caribbean tip: Keep an eye out for monkeys or raccoons approaching you asking for food. They can get quite aggressive and will even steal your food or other belongings.
9. Sustainable accommodations
Opt for guesthouses, ecolodges, or other small accommodations that have been approved by reputed establishments and choose those rather than massive resorts. There are a lot of accommodations that are built in harmony with nature.
Make sure that they hire local people and treat them well, that they follow sustainable practices like recycling waste, water conservation, reusing towels, and using ecological soaps/shampoos.
South Caribbean tip: Check our Sloth Friendly Network listed certified accommodations here.
10. Combat overtourism
Overtourism is just that – too many tourists. Streets are overcrowded, local sites are packed, fragile natural sites are degraded, high rent prices push out locals, and traffic is gridlocked. There are unfortunately a huge amount of destinations that can’t keep up with the crowds visiting and their locals are getting fed up because these destinations have been focusing on growth rather than taking care of the negative impacts.
The options to combat overtourism are visiting cities, countries, or sights that are less known and famous, or visiting places outside of peak season, so there will be fewer tourists around.
South Caribbean tip: Luckily, the South Caribbean is not affected by overtourism yet, you can enjoy absolutely empty beaches from March to June, and from September to November. Also, during these months it rains very little and the ocean is usually flat, Caribbean postcard-like. Double win!
11. Don’t bargain so hard
Bargaining is a part of the culture in some regions, but we have to think of the bigger picture. Sometimes tourist pricing can seem unfair, but in reality, if you’re only being charged $1 or $2 more than a local would be, think about how far that extra bit of cash could go for the person you are dealing with. Just pay the money and leave the exchange with both parties having a smile on their face.
-Sloth Friendly Network Team